Moto's new devices

Hands on: Trying out the new Moto X -- is bigger necessarily better?

Motorola's new version of its flagship Moto X Android smartphone offers a variety of new hardware and software capabilities.

Moto X

Motorola's Moto X: The new version

Credit: Motorola

About a year ago, I tried out a new smartphone from Motorola Mobility (which was then owned by Google) called the Moto X. Now in the process of moving to Lenovo, Motorola has just released the update to that phone -- which, despite all the rumors to the contrary, it is also simply calling the Moto X, replacing last year's model.

At the same time, the company made a number of other product introductions, including a new model of the less-expensive Moto G and its much-anticipated Moto 360 smartwatch. We will eventually have full (and well-researched) reviews of all three by JR Raphael, but since I've used the first iteration of the Moto X for the past year, I thought I'd take a quick first look at the new version.

My first though inevitably was: It's bigger. It now has a 5.2-in. display as compared to the original's 4.7-in. screen. As a result, the phone itself is larger: About 5.5 x 2.8 x 0.4 in., whereas the older Moto X measured 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.4.

Moto X old and new Barbara Krasnoff

The new version of the Moto X (left) is larger than last year's (right), with a bright screen and two front-facing speakers.

Certainly, bigger phones are the thing these days on the high end. And I have to admit that the display is beautiful; while I never had any complaints about the old Moto X's 720p display, the new 1080p OLED screen is very impressive. The new phone is visibly thinner than its predecessor; while it now weighs 5.1 oz., about half an ounce more than the original, I can't really tell the difference when holding the old and the new in each hand.

However, I have to say that I was one of those who didn't mind the smaller form factor; the newer Moto X doesn't fit as easily in my pocket, for example. And the smaller phone feels more comfortable in my hand, although that could change over the long term. But I can't help wondering about the apparent assumption being made that bigger is necessarily better.

An elegant look and improved components

I do have to admit the new phone is elegant. The back still curves, although slightly less than before. The frame is now made of aluminum rather than plastic, and you will still be able to choose your own color from the Moto Maker (there were rumors that it was going to disappear). There are two front-facing speakers that are really an improvement; I was very impressed with their sound.

The Motorola "dimple" is still on the back, although it's much larger and less subtle to the touch. The 13-megapixel back-facing camera now has a dual flash; there is also a front-facing 2-megapixel camera.

Moto X old and new Barbara Krasnoff

The back of the new version of the Moto X (left) has a larger "dimple" and a camera with two flashes.

Inside, the previous Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core processor has been replaced by a quad-core Snapdragon 801. There is still 2GB of RAM and you again have the choice of 16GB or 32GB of storage.

Interestingly, the battery hasn't been upgraded a lot, even considering the larger display: The Moto X now comes with a 2300mAh battery, just a bit more power than the previous 2200mAh one. Since I've known several people who complained about the less-than-ideal battery life of the old Moto X, it will be interesting to see if Motorola has managed to increase the device's efficiency to keep up with its increased power needs.

It's all in the voice

One of my favorite aspects of my year-old Moto X is its ability to operate hands-off and to respond to the phrase "Okay, Google Now" whether it's active or not. It's enabled me to send automatic texts in return to calls while I was driving and to find out who was texting me; to get a quick take on the weather or my schedule; to get fast answers to trivia questions.

The new Moto X improves on that in several ways. For example, you can now create your own "launch phrase" (something that at least one of my friends wished for, although I do wonder what people will be coming up with now that they can be creative about it).

Another new ability is to post via voice to third-party apps such as Facebook. I gave it a try -- I said my launch phrase and said, "Post to Facebook." The phone brought up the app and invited me to speak a message, but the moment I paused, it asked if I wanted to post the message. When I said no, I was then (as far as I could tell) stuck -- no matter what I said, the phone would tell me, "I didn't catch that." So this could take a bit of practice (and good programming by the third-party apps).

The phone is also supposed to stay on when you're using it by recognizing when your face is in front of it (called Attentive Display). When I ran the setup in a reasonably, although not brightly lit room, the image that was supposed to indicate that it "saw" me didn't seem too sure of itself at first, but then seemed to stabilize. And certainly, when I put the phone aside, it darkened quickly, while when I held it up to my face without doing anything else, it remained lit.

And you can now silence a phone call or an alarm by simply swiping your hand over the face of the phone. I tried it, and was successful one out of three times on average; like the ability to enable the camera by simply twisting your wrist, users may have to practice a bit to get that right.

Bottom line

The Moto X will be available later this month for $100 with a two-year contract (so far, from AT&T or Verizon Wireless) or $500 unlocked directly from Motorola.com or Google Play.

It's rather disappointing to me (as somebody who really liked the form factor of the original) that the new phone is larger, and I'm a little skeptical about how well the battery will perform. That being said, the new version of the Moto X looks like it could be a winner.

We will have a fuller deep-dive review coming up within the next week or so. Stay tuned.

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